Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Isn't it ironic?

It's ironic lamentable that it's often not ironic!

Poor irony, it's losing its meaning because even people who understand it find it hard to articulate what it is. What passes for irony is often Murphy's Law in action: If the worst can happen it will. And other interpretations. (A good site is Is It Ironic? where you can vote on whether a situation is ironic or not.)

Dictionary definition: Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

Simpler: When what happens isn't in keeping with what's expected to happen.

So, for story purposes, a hyperactive librarian, a direction-challenged taxi driver, an ex-line backer child-care provider, a vegetarian werewolf, are all ironic combinations. The two are not just unexpected, but one half would seem to prevent it from coming together with the other.

A dramatic expansion on the definition might be: Irony is when a character's effort to avoid a situation then causes that situation to happen.

I don't know if the "effort to move away then leading to" is necessary for something to be ironic, but it creates tension and conflict which are always good for stories!

Another, harder to picture at first, but more obvious when you get it: When mutually inclusive factors bring mutually exclusive factors together.

The bullied would avoid the bully but what if the bullied became principal and the bully became a father of -- to add further irony -- the valedictorian? The tow truck that shows up to pull the car full of Young Republicans out of the ditch is driven by a gay black woman.

For the following character types (including the 4 listed in the first paragraph), set up situations such that the character's choices (a one time choice or a lifetime of choices) creates the expectation that something won't happen, but then a choice of theirs causes that thing to happen.

To add extra irony, choose personality flaws and values that are the opposite of what's expected. Check Chaotic Shiny's Motive generator and Death Quaker's Big List of Merits and Flaws for ideas if you need them.

What situation would make this person feel like a fish out of water?

What skills and beliefs of the character would be challenged by the new situation?

What choices might such a character normally make -- like getting married, job searching, going to religious services, having a child -- that might, ironically, cause them to end up in this situation?

What could the character want that might unexpectedly connect to this situation, thus forcing the character to deal with it?

Demon hunter
Army grunt
Fashion designer

A couple more common forms of irony used in stories:

Verbal irony: Saying the opposite of what's meant. If the intent is to disparage someone, then it's sarcasm.

Dramatic irony: When a character expects the situation to be one way, but the reader knows more and is aware the character's expectations won't be met.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Average Jim

From Frontiers in Perception Science
Jim Smith is an ordinary man living an ordinary life. He is 5' 10.2". He weighs 177.9 pounds. He earned last year, rounded to the nearest dollar, $46,326. He has 2 children (rounded to the nearest child.) Amazingly, even though no one considered race as a factor, he is 3/4 Caucasian, 1/8 African American and 1/8 Hispanic. He is an average American. He is so average, in fact, he's unique.

Once he's identified, the media descends on him and he's no longer living an ordinary life. While the media frenzy lasts only as long as such frenzies do, he is now known to everyone in town and a week doesn't go by when someone doesn't want a picture with him or want to interview him.

He becomes so representatively average of regular people in the minds of his fellow townsfolk, he's elected mayor. While the salary is more than the average, he says he'll only accept the average American salary. Which endears him even more.

Jim watches his weight. (He even double checked on that vasectomy he'd had two years before.) Then at his yearly check up the doctor gives him the horrific news: he's shrunk. He's 5' 9.9". This is perfectly normal, his doctor reassures him. Everyone shrinks with age.

But, no, this is terrible! He's no longer the most average man in America! He'd lived his whole life being so average no one noticed him. Which he thought he had been okay with. But now he realizes how great it was to be unique.

So what does Jim do? Does he find a way to be unique again or does he come to accept that being just average average is okay?

There's a book about such a search The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen. :-)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The graying of gamers

Write the dialog between these guys.

Who are they? Are they brothers returned to their childhood home?

Is this 40 years in the future where they've gotten together to play video games like they used to? Are they grousing about the current depraved state of games (played on holodecks most likely!) and gamers?

Do they have unresolved issues from the last time they played that the gaming brings out?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

No one goes to Tula with his own samovar.

Two choices. Come up with a definition for each of these rather cryptic proverbs. Or let them inspire a character who sprinkles their speech with these pearls of wisdom.

They are all actual Russian proverbs, translated literally from Russian. These are just the ones I whittled the list down to! :-) There are more in the comments. The link above provides the original proverbs, the literal translation as well as the English meaning. (I've copied it to the comments too in case the site disappears.)

The quieter you go - the further you'll be.
The casket opened simply
God won't give it away, pigs won't eat it
Written with a pitchfork on water.
There is no truth in feet.
Elder-berry is in the kitchen-garden, and Uncle is in Kiev.
Legs (feet) feed the wolf.
No one goes to Tula with his own samovar.
The devil puts a spoonful of honey into anothers' wife.
Hunger is not your aunt, it won't bring you a pie
Health leaves in poods, but comes in zolotniks.
Both cheap and angry.
The turkey was also thinking, but ended up in the soup.
A kopeck saves the ruble, and the ruble guards your head
You can't forbid living beautifully.
It makes chicken laugh.
Love's evil, you'll love even a goat.
One son is not a son, two sons are half a son, three sons are a son.
Cat will get a downpour of mice's tears
The feather of a falcon and the inside of a crow.
Poor dancer is impeded (even) by his own balls.
You are close to the business, but he is  about a white goat.
Fear has large eyes.
He lives well, whose Grandma tells fortunes.
May be naked, but right
What is good to the Russian, is death to the German

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Cluster of Cliches

Take one of the cliche plots and brainstorm as many twists and off the wall approaches as you can.

  • The princess has been kidnapped and must be rescued.
  • A boy and girl from families who are mortal enemies, fall in love.
  • Character wakes up with amnesia.
  • Two characters who hate each other, must work together for a common goal.
  • A character is granted 3 wishes.
  • Characters dare each other to spend the night in the "haunted" house.
  • It's revealed the character is "the Chosen One."
  • An inheritance stipulates the heir must do accomplish something that's counter to their nature within a year or they don't get the inheritance.
  • A character has sold his soul to the devil, and now it's time to pay up.
  • Au unpleasant character is visited by ghosts from Christmas Past, Present and Future.
  • Character has prophetic dreams.
  • One character meets their perfect match, but the perfect match is in love with the wrong person.
  • The relative from hell moves in for a couple of weeks.
  • A ghost has some unfinished business.
  • Character is imbued with superpowers or a destiny when all they want is to be normal.
  • Aliens want to take over Earth.
  • Two brothers, one ruthless and one principled, are in competition with each other.
  • The "monster" who is trying to be good.
  • Santa Clause can't deliver the presents this year.
  • The character has been hidden and his evil twin has taken his place.
  • Character wakes up (from spell, from cryosleep, etc.) 100 years in the future. (Or past.)
  • Character must go into the past to stop something from happening.
  • The ultimate evil has been unleashed.
  • The Search for the Holy Grail.
  • The Search for eternal life.
  • Characters get shrunk to bug size.
  • Characters need to be shrunk to bug size to accomplish something.
  • The parent/spouse you thought was dead is actually alive.
  • The aliens can take on human form and are secretly among us.
  • Character is yanked into the past with a head full of modern knowledge.
  • "Angel" must redeem himself on Earth to get back into Heaven.
  • A period of time keeps repeating until the character gets "it" "right".
  • Bodies of two very different people get swapped.
  • Sucked into a video game.
  • Modern person sucked into a fantasy world.
  • Imaginary friend no one else can see isn't imaginary.
  • The "prince" and the "pauper" switch places.
  • The ugly duckling must be turned into a swan before the time is up.
  • We want our town back!
  • Long lost love has returned.